For the Atlanta Falcons, change is afoot. Thus saith Gil Brandt, the NFL’s resident godfather who knows this league as well if not better than anyone alive today. His comments on the Atlanta Falcons couldn’t be more dead on:
"Change is afoot in Atlanta with two new coordinators: Dirk Koetter on offense, Mike Nolan on defense — both upgrades for the Falcons. Matt Ryan needs to take that next step for this team to follow suit. This is a make-or-break season for left tackle Sam Baker. Defensively, the Falcons still need to find a pass rusher. John Abraham turned 34 last month and Ray Edwards just isn’t the impact player the Falcons thought they’d signed last offseason."
All of these are points that have been discussed in at least the past month. The hiring of new offensive and defensive coordinators are truly upgrades as Brandt points out, but it is absolutely necessary for this team that they be better than their predecessors. The reason is that the Falcons have decided to stick with essentially the same roster they had in 2011. Aside from the signing of Lofa Tatupu, the loss of Lofton in free-agency, and the influx of talent through the draft, the new coordinators have to get more out of this team than Brian Van Gorder and Mike Mularkey got on defense and offense respectively.
It is also very hard to argue with his depiction of the Matt Ryan situation. It seems like everyone who is truly knowledgeable and well education about quarterback play in the NFL says the same thing about Ryan: he is both ready and capable of taking the next step towards becoming an elite QB in this league. It is just a matter of him actually executing that leap in his play. If he does, the Falcons can be a force to reckon with.
We all know the situation at Left Tackle with Sam Baker as well as the situation along the rest of the offensive line. The two articles that I have included talk a great deal about those situations which Brandt is obviously well education about.
The only other thing that is preventing the Falcons from achieving greatness in the post-season in addition to the regular season is a better pass rush. I agree with Brandt that Ray Edwards was not the defensive end we thought we were signing a year ago, but I don’t think we have unlocked the full potential that he has. His ceiling may not be as high as guys like Julius Peppers and Jared Allen, but Atlanta is not paying him like either of those guys. I have no doubt the Falcons will see increased production from Edwards in 2012, and that combined with a new scheme from Mike Nolan will mean increased pressure on the quarterback this next season.
The Falcons are ranked 11th in Brandt’s power rankings, but I see them having the potential to surpass many of the teams listed above them. Increased production or ‘the next step’ from Ryan, a better season from Ray Edwards, and better offensive line play can translate into at a top-5 position in the mid-season rankings, and almost hopefully a playoff win or two.